"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Linky Goodness: Biology vs. Choice

In lieu of actual posting, I have a recommended read. Elizabeth over at Sex in the Public Square has a great post about why whether or not various aspects of human sexuality are 'biological' or 'chosen' doesn't have any part to play in the rights of people to have the kind of sex they want. Even if some part of one's sexuality is 'freely chosen', why can't it also be a right? After all, religions are freely chosen (sometimes!), and we seem to think people have a right to their religion. Framing the debate about sexual rights as biology versus choice leads down the wrong road:

We should not allow a "biology v. choice" framing of the rights debate to continue. If we do, we will likely find ourselves backed into a very unpleasant corner. We will be forced to argue that we are helpless over our sexuality, and then will be faced with the very frightening prospect of arguing in favor of a medical definition of sexual orientation -- which can then be used against us when people decide to start looking for "cures." For make no mistake about it: if they think they can "cure" us by counseling us into making different choices, they will be no less likely to try to "cure" us of a sexual orientation that they can frame as a disease. If there is a "gay gene" we should be very wary of what happens if it's found. It will then be possible for genetic testing to "discover" the sexual orientation of a child and gene therapy may be used to "fix" that child. We've been there before in less technologically sophisticated ways.

I sort of feel this way about various kinds of gender essentialisms. Even if it were the case that 'most women are like x' and 'most men are like z', I always want to ask: What about those that don't fall within those norms? Shouldn't they be able to freely be themselves, anyway?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sleeping with the Enemy: From the Other Side Part Two)

Continuing with some thoughts inspired by some posts at Feministe. See Part one of the series here.

Jaclyn, a guest-blogger last week over at Feministe, has some great posts up over there. Among them is a series titled Sleeping with the Enemy, parts one, two and three.

Note: There seems to be something weird going on over at Feministe as regards links to these posts. I'll try to fix the links as things over there settle down. Sorry!

Becoming the Enemy
In fact, I have some personal experience in this regard. My central romantic relationship from when I was 17 until I was 21 or so (way back before email when dinosaurs roamed the earth with Adam and Eve) was with a woman I'll call B. At the time, B and I were both straight-identified, but we were so sort of 'by default', not having thought about it much (say hello to hetero-privilege!). During the later part of our relationship, we were separated by a few hours drive, and during that time she made a new friend, a woman who identified as a lesbian. Queue "The L Word" soundtrack, let some time pass, and see that a few months later the three of us were embroiled in some of the most drama-inducing stuff of my (then) young life. Eventually, B realized that she wasn't straight, and that she really wanted to be in a monogamous relationship with her new love. We parted ways, to become friends again later on in ways too complicated to go into here, but one thing that always stuck with me was a conversation B and I had in the middle of it all, in which she tried to explain how her feelings changed, her feelings for me and her feelings for her new love. Keep in mind this is an 18-year old woman whose sexual identity was to shift and change considerably for as long as I knew her--I have no doubt she would cringe today at remembering the oversimplifying that we were all doing back then. She explained to me that her new love just "got" her in a way that I never could. Her new love had, she explained, grown up as a woman, faced with all of the obstacles that women face--and as such had insight into B's own being that I could only come close to, and never attain.

Simply Bitter
It was, as one might imagine, hard to hear. Decades later, my feelings about it are a bit more nuanced, but at the time, I was simply defensive and hurt. I wasn't blind to the reality that B's feelings were valid, yet I found myself pretty darn bitter anyway. Instead of seeing the breakup as a breakup, I saw it as some sort of attack on my identity. (I suppose lots of breakups feel like attacks on identity, now that I think about it.) She was (I thought/she explained) breaking up with me mostly because I wasn't a woman. And of course, that was an oversimplification--but the fact that she felt that way a the time, the way that she explained to me that not only did I not "get" her as a woman could, but that I never could have, began to make me feel a wee little bit (sometimes a lot) like the enemy.

Age, Nuance and Complexity
Years and years later, when i was dating she-who-will-be-known-as-Z, things were a lot more complex. Z identified as bi, and had been in long-term romantic relationships with both men and women. Being older and a little bit wiser than I was when I was 21, I found myself in a relationship where we openly talked about hetero privilege, bi-phobia, bi-invisibility and the like; it felt initially like a whole different ballgame. Sure, we were read by strangers as like a couple-of-straight-people, as a hetero-normative couple, but we were very aware of the privilege that such readings created. But of course simply being aware of it doesn't get one out of the problems wrapped up in having the privilege, and, like all privilege, we ended up benefiting from it nonetheless. Z felt a lot of guilt about that, and something else--anger at having to deal with all of it. She also sometimes felt like she was letting herself down. I felt guilty at times at what I might call 'queer privilege'--that is, one of the things that seemed to set me apart from other straight-identified-white-middle-class-men was that I was in a relationship with somebody who was bi-identified. I was embarrassed that I felt that way (it makes me cringe to even write about it now, years later), but I had to admit to myself that sometimes I did. Our emotions around the socio-political stuff put some stress on our relationship, no doubt.

Thing is, all the socio-political-sexual stuff aside, Z really liked women. When she tried to get close to other women while in the relationship with me, she really had no luck--the bi-invisibility and bi-phobia stuff kicked in (even in a nonmonogamous context), but also, lots of lesbian-identified dykes just didn't want to be with somebody who was with a guy, or, in some cases, didn't want to be with a woman who had ever been with a guy. It was more than frustrating for her--it was hurtful and agonizing and, combined with the socio-political-sexual pressure (some examples of which can be seen in the comments of Jaclyn's posts) was, I think, part of what made our relationship perhaps too much work to be worth it. (Which is not at all to say that "she left me for a woman" is the main thread of our breakup. It was complex and involved and...resists oversimplification.)

The feeling of becoming the enemy was more pronounced with this breakup for me, in part because I did understand some of the complexities involved. I could totally empathize with what Z was going through, even if I couldn't understand it from my own experience fully. When she quickly found some true love-ish-ness from a woman after our breakup, in some ways my role was already cast: The Ex-Boyfriend, and all that such a label entails within this context. And in some ways, that role, even if it's not thought of as The Enemy outright, is thought of as The Outsider. The Problem. The Sordid Past.

Feelin' and Dealin'
And, whatever the truth of Z's heart, I felt like the enemy--I felt that now Z was on the 'right' side of things, fighting the good fight,not having to deal with all of the bs that comes from being in a relationship with a guy, not having to worry about hetero privilege--in a lot of ways it seemed to me that Z was better off, not just for having found love, but for having found love outside of hetero privilege.

And to some extent I still think that's true. As tough as it can be for not-straight-identified people in not-straight relationships, even in the SF Bay Area where I live, one advantage for Z is that she doesn't have to deal with all of the stuff I've been talking about. She still may have to deal with bi-phobia (actually, I'm not sure she identifies as bi any longer) and the like, and of course there will be homophobia to deal with, but one thing she won't have to worry about is being labeled as sleeping with the enemy.

And yet, in whatever ways, I will always be the enemy, which is, y'know, pretty sad for me a good deal of the time. But then along come people who understand that this is complex stuff; along come women who think relationships with (some) men are worth it; along come women who understand that even if we sometimes feel like we're either sleeping with the enemy or that we are the enemy, it's much more complex than that, and that, in general, we don't have to be enemies. We have to deal with the realities of the culture we live in, which include struggling with traditional gender roles and the like, but we can struggle against them, and together, if that's what we decide to do. Which, y'know, makes me happy.

Next: In part three, some notes on that sort of struggle, and what it's been like for me lately.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sleeping with the Enemy: From the Other Side, Part One

Jaclyn, a guest-blogger last week over at Feministe, has some great posts up over there. Among them is a series titled Sleeping with the Enemy, parts one, two and three.
Note: There seems to be something weird going on over at Feministe as regards links to these posts. I'll try to fix the links as things over there settle down. Sorry!
They're all great reads, infused with insight that comes with non-self-conscious analysis of one's own experiences, and I think kudos are in order for Jaclyn for speaking on this topic, one that there is a lot of silence about.

Silence About Intimacy
In fact, I think none of us talk enough about what it means for men and women to find some intimacy with each other while doing the work of feminism, whether that intimacy be framed as friendship, love, sex or various combinations of all of these. Once you jettison hetero norms and the like, and you've got an even more complex situation that a lot of people seem to want to oversimplify to fit their world views (i.e. people who stereotype bi-identified people as all in the closet or 'confused'). In some ways it is understandable that this stuff doesn't get talked about as much as I would like it to be--personal intimacy issues seem to pale in comparison with, say, the glass ceiling or violence against women, as far as things that need to change go.

And yet, intimacy is one of the great joys of life--an for those of us who identify as hetero or bi (and for some of us who identify as queer), intimacy with those of the opposite sex, of various forms, can be a kind of joy that we may think is worth all of the trouble. Certainly, when Jaclyn talks about hoping for long-term-ish-ness in her current relationship with a guy, we hear (in part) that she thinks the joy she's getting from this intimacy is worth the crap that has to be waded through involving people's reactions to her "sleeping with the enemy".

But I didn't mean this post to be about intimacy in general. What I intend is to paint a bit of a picture of what it's like to be the 'enemy' in a similar situation. In particular, I'm going to talk a bit about the complexities that have revolved around dating feminists, dating bi- and queer-identified women, and the ways in which I've attempted to deal with, from time to time in important ways, being intimate while being construed as the enemy.

On Avoiding the Bullshit Altogether
Jaclyn points out that being a woman who is only intimate with other women can give one the option of opting out of a lot of the bs that comes along with being a woman who is intimate with men:
I had dropped out of the world of men for complicated reasons. You can read more here if you like, or else suffice it to say that once I discovered that I was attracted to women, I immediately realized that I had no reason to deal with male bullshit at all anymore.

It's important to not play down how freeing this can feel for people. I've talked with bi- and gay-identified women in my life who feel pretty deeply the ways in which not being intimate with men (to the point of cutting off family ties with a parent or siblings, even) can be liberating to the extreme. Which is not to say that intimacy between women is without baggage of its own, of course--but arguments have been made to me that, given a choice, finding love and friendship without having to deal with "male bullshit at all" could be the way to go.

But what does the "male bullshit" mean to men, who sometimes are the enemy, who sometimes become the enemy?

Next: Part Two: Becoming the Enemy

Monday, August 20, 2007

Men Speak Out

I'm a little bitter about this, because I submitted something to this anthology which was rejected, but I'm still eagerly awaiting the upcoming book edited by Shira Tarrant, Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power. I think it will likely be worth a pre-order, even without my stuff (which I eventually turned into blog fodder here, here and here).

It seems like we're currently riding a wave of feminist interest in how men fit into feminist movement, which is very nice to see, and makes me hopeful.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Armchair Feminism, Part One

I got some good constructive criticism recently about the ways that I express myself regarding feminism, and it's got me to thinking. A friend of mine who is active in various feminist realms, pointed out to me that my writing about feminism often feels "detached", and as such is frustrating to her, because she sees that from other men who identify as feminists (or pro-feminists) as well. From her point of view, when it comes to men and feminism, the ways that men express themselves often betray that it's 'Just Theory' to them.

I started off writing this post imagining that I would write something definitive, but then i recognized what a big issue it was--for me and perhaps for others--that I thought I'd just throw some ideas out there and see what sticks to the interweb, and hopefully write some follow-up posts.

The Armchair
On the face of it, it's pretty obvious why feminist men have to be careful to not slip into Armchair Feminism. Women feminists have constant, personal reminders (all too constant) of why the world needs feminism -- they experience (for instance) sexism daily on the street, at work, and at home, and they experience it as a loss of freedom, of safety, of fairness. But of course men also live in this world, and once men start viewing the world through feminist lenses, we also have daily reminders -- living in a sexist world, how could we not? And I would even say that we experience a loss due to sexism: Men lose out on being fully human, for instance, due to the gender socialization that teaches them (oversimplifying here) to "be strong" and "be a man". I think it's important to not play that experience of loss down, because I think it is lived experience, and because it affects men on deep levels that aren't acknowledged enough (especially by men themselves!). That's one reason why I find myself talking about it quite a bit here at FA.

That said, from where I'm standing, talking to friends and interacting with other feminists in various ways, there is a way in which feminist women have less choice about being active in feminism, in fighting the good fight. Women feminists (at times) have to fight the good fight because the fight is so often brought right up to them. Feminist men more often have the luxury of being able to speak from a theoretical perspective, and we are to various degrees blind to the ways in which male privilege encourages us to speak only from a theoretical perspective.

(Meta Note: Writing about Armchair Feminism is, in many ways, an expression of Armchair Feminism itself.)

Men's Place in Feminism
Some of the, shall we say, "tentativeness" with which I write about feminism comes from the complexities of being a feminist man, of wanting to carefully navigate space that has been created by (mostly) women, and in some cases is thought of as a safe space for women, a refuge from a sexist world. Which is not to say that I haven't felt entirely welcome in some feminist spaces--in fact, I've felt very welcome in most feminist spaces, both online and in the Real World. But feeling comfortable doesn't stop me from being careful, looking for blind spots related to male privilege, and making an effort to listen when my socialization encourages me to talk. My constructively critical friend might say that I'm too careful, and that may very well be so. Or perhaps I just haven't learned (yet) how to navigate without being overly careful. Or, perhaps, I'm comfy in my Feminist Armchair, and I'm using this stuff as an excuse. Likely it's a mix of all of this stuff.

Feminist Styles
Another facet of all of this is that I have learned to avoid (perhaps to a fault) styles of communication that have been taught to me as a man, based on traditional male gender roles, and I'm continually learning to change in that regard. My background is in academic philosophy, which is (still, I think) a bastion of the Logical Argument, of the debate, of forcefully convincing your audience, who are also to whatever degree your enemies because they don't yet agree with you. In my experience, the Logical Argument is most often an excuse to badger somebody who disagrees with you. In my experience, the way one argues, the style of arguing, is often taken as the force of the argument itself. Do you include personal experience? Then you're probably offering up invalid arguments. Do you acknowledge (and give voice to) alternatives to your point of view? Then you're not proving you're right. Do you put forth opinions as less-than-certain-but-still-important? Then you're just wrong, because Truth is Certainty. All of these points of view are put forth by supposedly objective people who think that perfect objectivity is doable, that anything less isn't at all convincing, and that men are better at this (In my experience, the Logical Argument part of traditional male masculinity, at least in the cultures I grew up in.)

I'm much more interested in discussions these days than I am in debates. The two often overlap in various ways, and it does come down to a matter of style, which will resist strict definitions. But for the most part, if somebody comes to the table with a point and some questions about it, I'm much more likely to want to interact with them than with somebody who comes to the table wanting to prove to me me that they have a point.

This tendency toward encouraging discussion rather than debate, which I'm nurturing in myself and which I see as partly arising from the futility of arguing in ways that men are socialized to argue, may, in fact be frustrating for a lot of other feminists. It may come off as if I'm not speaking with the courage of my feminist convictions, that I don't care enough to really stand up for my feminist beliefs. And implicit in my coming off that way is the judgment that I'm blind to my privilege, that I don't recognize that I can, as a feminist man, choose to speak with conviction or not--whereas feminist men don't have as much of a choice in the matter. (Of course, being able to choose to not debate, but rather to discuss, may be another reflection of being an Armchair Feminist--feminist men have the luxury of discussion, whereas feminist women feel a more pressing need to change the minds of others more forcefully.)

And I agree that this is a problem. But to me (so far), it's more of a problem that, unchecked, men tend to talk about everything (including feminism) as if it's some sort of pissing contest--and I'm willing to (for now) be seen as wishy-washy (a bit) in my feminist convictions in order to not buy into the pissing contest mentality. There are plenty of other feminists (of all genders) who are willing to put forth their ideas in a more straightforward way (*waves to Dave*!)--and indeed, female feminists can utilize the debate approach without some of the baggage that I think male feminists automatically bring to the table (i.e. traditional male masculinity). There is room within feminism(s) for all of us to change some minds, using various methods. (This too, of course, can be seen as a result of my male privilege--one might suggest that I can take the 'many methods' approach because I don't as readily see the dire need for change.)

Where I Make My Stands
There are places where I'm not as flexible regarding my convictions, where things play out more definitively. I vote for candidates, as often as I can, who vote along the lines of my feminist ideals. I call out sexism at work, and out on the street. I wear the label of feminist (although I don't make an issue of it if I'm in a space where such a label on a man isn't very welcome). I call out sexism in my personal life (and in myself). I interact with other men as a feminist. And it may be the case that, as I learn to better navigate feminist spaces, I begin to once again push my feminist ideals more forcefully, especially now that it's been pointed out to me that at least some other feminists think that I ought to.

More later.

Comic Lessons in Masculinity

It's been almost a week since I posted about traditional masculinity and comic strips, so it's high time that I talk a bit about what's going on over in the strip Monty. This is an often funny little strip that started out as a strip called Robotman in the 80's. As with lots of different comic strips, the funny mostly comes from the inanity of the main character, Monty.

Currently, Monty has accidentally traveled very far forward in time. In this distant future, men have ceased to exist, and women rule the world (and live forever!)(as always, click to enlarge):
Leaving aside for the moment that the year is 6969, which is actually pretty funny in a way and surprising that it got through whatever censors are involved, let's just say that, yeah, the strip is written by a guy who has probably had that fantasy, too. So, we have some sexist stuff, with a little bit of self-deprecating humor thrown in (Monty is, after all, a sap in the strip, really) to make it seem more palatable. Or does it just make it seem creeeeeeepy?

Next up: More self-deprecating humor that reinforces traditional masculinity stereotypes!
Also disturbing is the fact that the poster looks vaguely like a young Ronald Reagan. Shudder.

Next up we have both a straw-feminist portrayal (I don't know any feminists, or anybody at all, who thinks that if men weren't in power that we would have an instant utopia--most of the positions around women gaining more power are more nuanced than typical utopian ideals) and some sexist stereotyping that women in the year 6969 are big freakin' nags, just like they are now!.

Next, some Universal Truths About Gender are provided for us:
Because (real) men don't drink wine spritzers! That's a girly thing! And no women like the Three Stooges! Because that's a guy thing!

And finally, some more self-deprecation combined with a reinforcement of traditional masculinity, this time enforced by the women of 6969:
Though the thing about doing something before he takes off his pants is funny, darn it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gender Differences Among Our Children

Recently I heard a local girl's high school basketball coach (who's had outstanding success) interviewed on a local PBS radio station. When asked about the differences between coaching girls and boys he indicated that the girls had to be taught that they could focus on themselves, rather than the team in some of their play. He indicated that boys had to be taught to pass the ball and not shoot it each time. Girls he said had to be taught that they could shoot the ball and not pass it all the time.

In understanding why he was so successful it was clear that he allowed his teams collectively to help make some decisions and really worked using their desires to cooperate.

When my step-son plays on his soccer team the coach has to work to build teamwork. When older girls' teams are practicing nearby their teamwork and general camaraderie are always very evident.

Socialization is certainly part of this, but biology also plays a role. Watching young children I've seen very little boys playing very different from similar girls. TV, other kids as well as parents affect behavior, but it's more than that.

I wonder how, if at all, it may be different in subcultures (and other cultures in general) where cooperation is valued much more than our individualistic culture.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Some Good News for Men Who Would Be Allies

Jaclyn, who is guest-posting over at Feministe!, has a post up that is perhaps of special interest to those who visit Feminist Allies. Keeping in mind the comlexities involved, I think Jaclyn is making some room for ally work in feminism by pro-feminist and feminist men. At the very least, she gives this feminist man some hope, and a better understanding of how some feminist women may feel about working with men in feminist movement. Jaclyn says:
Which brings me at last to the issue at hand: What do we gain and lose from working with feminist men? Can men be feminists, or can they only be feminist allies (as some have suggested)? Should they have a particular role in the feminist movement (i.e. educating other men), or should they be welcome to contribute however they are most motivated and useful (and who decides where they’re most useful)? If we want to accept the work of men in the movement, how do we all (people of all genders) deal with the natural, necessary suspicions that arise? Are you more or less suspicious of feminist men than you used to be?

As for me, given my definition of feminism, I think men can be feminists, but some of them aren’t there yet, and really are just “allies.” And I’ll admit that knowing CG (really, just knowing he exists, and therefore other guys like him might exist) makes me ever-so-slightly more generous with men who identify as feminists or express interest in feminism, though I am definitely always watching and waiting for unexamined privilege to seep out. That watchfulness and suspicion isn’t a bad thing. But I do think, if we’re going to dismantle the systems of gender oppression, we’re going to need all the help we can get, as long as it’s genuinely helpful.

So as much as I agree it’s on men to deal with the suspicion and everything else that comes along with ally work, and I’m not advocating we tone anything down to make a kinder, gentler feminism so that the Mens won’t feel so Uncomfortable, I do think it’s in our best interest to figure out which men are worth working with, and how to work with them.

I also think that there is plenty of room in this feminist movement for women who disagree, vehemently, with some of what Jaclyn has to say. In the comments, Janis points out:
So AFAIC, if men can be feminist, if want WANT to be feminist, they’re going to do it with no acknowledgement from me. None. I will nto engage them. If they really are, they shouldn’t need me to kiss their asses and tell them how wonderful they are. No engagement on my end, at all. IF that keeps them from being feminist, then so goddamned be it. They shouldn’t need to have their asses kissed to acknowledge that 2+2=4, either.

What I like about what Janis has to say here is that she points out the other side of the issue--and I like the fact that there are feminists like Jaclyn and that there are feminists like Janis; feminist men always need to keep a few things in mind simultaneously:
1. Doing the basic work of feminism doesn't earn men a cookie. (Which is a toned-down version of something akin to what Janis is saying.)
2. Doing the basic work of feminism isn't easy, and as feminist men we have to take the valued opinions of people like Jaclyn to heart, to keep our hearts alive while struggling.
3. Back to something like what Janis is saying, we ought not expect reactions like Jaclyn's, to look to women who have similar views to motivate us--we must be prepared to do feminist work even in the face of never getting such encouragement. We must work to encourage each other to fill in gaps, as well.

Update: The discussion at Feministe! has been (IMHO) derailed quite a bit by sailorman. Please take care when commenting over there.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bonding and Separation - Particularly As Men

I grew up feeling very alone within my family. I loved sports while my brother and parents had zero interest in them. Within my family we had a rule that there was no reading at the dinner table on Friday evenings for the Sabbath dinner (where one can readily see the lack of intimacy). Within my family we discussed and debated ideas (in a "liberal household"), but feelings were not something I learned to communicate about. The 1960's when I came of age were different from today - the Modern Feminist Movement was just beginning as my father died in 1964, when I was 13.

Perhaps not surprisingly I've never faced Very Deep intimacy - connectedness issues until I met my current partner starting in 2002. Within my first marriage and parenting my son I really didn't understand deep connections and I struggle with my Love now not infrequently.

My partner's life experiences have been very, very different! Last weekend her (father's) family had somewhere around their 46th annual reunion with probably close to 100 attendees - this year in South Carolina. Within her family there is much discussion of everyone who is a faintly close relative and attempts to work through many issues with each other.

Obviously differences in our experiences may relate to simple individual differences as well as gender and race (my partner is Black and I am White). I have nothing to back up my feelings, but want to share some of them.

Within the "White" culture I grew up in, individualism and individual achievements were emphasized. My sense is that I am not alone growing up as a White Male in having particular focus upon achievements, rather than relationships.

I can feel that particularly when I see B, my partner, acknowledge other Black people - with a simple nod or smile upon seeing them. That feeling deepens when I think of how things that were enjoyed by my parents included listening to classical music and seeing art in museums. Our "achievements" were in intellectual areas, not in sports, as many young men grow up pushing for. Either area could help keep us all apart emotionally - at a deep level at least.

I do not know if others found a deeper focus within their communities through religious affiliation or in other areas such as country club memberships, lodges or other areas that bring people together outside of school and work. We belonged to the Jewish Community where we lived, but for me at least, this didn't feel inclusive in a way that dealt with a lot of feelings.

My sense is that the loners which I include myself in also include other what I would call "sad" men whose lives have kept them apart. One high school classmate who was a little slow "toad" - committed suicide later on - which a number of us have guilty feelings related to. Within the religious Jewish community that my brother lives in in Brooklyn, NY there are single, older men who obviously (in a world where Marriage is considered one's Duty) are emotionally isolated from much of their community.

Other "sad" loners to me include the men who kill their ex-partners and then often commit suicide. Others are not as "dangerous", but are still the men I see in restaurants alone, or alone in various other situations. Being male - seems to allow for a lot of us to I guess use our Privilege as Men - to exist as "the bachelor man" - who is perhaps the counter-part to "the old maid".

Obviously women live lives alone as well. I'm not sure how different "loner women" are. I sense that some are survivors of childhood abuse. I'm not sure what the counterpart is to "the mama's boy" - which some of us are (I don't see myself as this!).

As men - we may be both valued overly for being male and be under various pressures as male children within our households. Observing young girls and boys as they move towards school age I've seen clear gender differences. Separating what is genetic from the environmental differences is difficult. There is a huge difference between doll play - dealing with "reality" and the "gun play" and similar - whether with toy guns or sticks - whose reality is certainly competitive rather than cooperative.

Clearly how we bond with our families of origin and others in our first few years has a huge effect on our "adult" personalities.

I find a lot of these areas confusing! My writing goes in many directions as I think and write.

I'm curious about others' life experiences and feelings!


Oppression Olympics: To Run or Not To Run?

Kameelah has a great post over at Black Looks about the 'Oppression Olympics'. What I like most about this post is that it quickly covers a lot of bases, but doesn't oversimplify the complexities involved in understanding and living within systems of oppression. Kameelah says:
Why are we obsessed with winning the award of the most oppressed? Why are we so fixated on positioning our pain and suffering above that of others? Do such self-congratulatory acts validate an authentic existence? What award is there for the oppression olympics? Does your voice become more legitimate when you engage in what ultimately is a narcissistic act that does discursive and real violence to the lives of others? Do we all want to be card carrying members of the “Most Oppressed”?

With all these questions, I must admit that when middle and upper class White women try to equate their experiences as women with that of being Black I do get upset. I am upset not because I do not deny the struggles of being a woman in any context, I get upset because in the assertion of oppression and equation with my life, they deny, obscure and make unimportant the advantages they reap (and take) as moneyed, white folks.

As a man who identifies as a feminist, I think a lot about the oppression olympics, in part because my place(s) within feminist discourse and activism always involve my understanding, to whatever degree I am able, my places of privilege. But also, I am always trying to better understand the oppression of others, trying to empathize with the feelings that oppression brings, by noting the places in my life where I am not the person with the *most* privilege. This is a dangerous business, because one has to avoid the temptation, which is sometimes really non-conscious, to equate one's experience of not-being-privileged in a certain respect with being oppressed in another respect. That is, I have to also be constantly aware that my experience as a man who tends to cry in private and public from time to time (say), and who therefore doesn't experience as much privilege that comes with traditional masculinity, may provide me some insight and empathy, it also will not compare in some important ways with most of the ways people experience oppression.

It's interesting, and Kameelah makes me wonder about the fact that both of the following seem true:
1. The Oppression Olympics seem to reinforce traditional hierarchies of power, and should be avoided.
2. We must recognize that oppression is a shifting, complex sort of thing, laced by interesectionality--and that the (say) American Xtian who claims he is oppressed because people don't say "Merry Xmas" to him, but instead say "Happy Holidays," is full of shit if he makes a claim of oppression in comparison with how, for instance, Muslims are maligned more and more often in the US.

So it seems that the Oppression Olympics must be avoided, but we must also point out that not all oppressions are the same. Which is a tough place to be, conceptually.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Int'l Blog Against Racism Week

What Does the Middle-class White Hetero Bio-male Have to Say About Racism?

Note: This post isn't directly related to feminism in the strict sense, but as I see the causes of feminism and anti-racism as inextricably intertwined, I'm posting it here anyway.

It's International Blog Against Racism Week in Blogland. Being an ally is tricky, most of the time. For instance, I am aware that, as a white guy in North America, talking about racism can easily come off as self-congratulatory--it's hard to talk about experiences in my life that I am proud of, for instance, where I took a stand against racism, without coming off like I want a cookie. And yet, I want to talk about my experiences around racism--and I would like to do so by not only talking about the ways in which I find racism in my self. So, I'll just leave it that I've been part of a racist culture for so long that I will always struggle with my blind spots, and with racism within myself, but I'll put forward something that I'm proud of. Not because I want a cookie, or because I think such actions are as important as what others have to go through on a daily basis, are forced to go through on a daily basis, but because I have to be proud of myself for the ways in which I struggle against the dominant paradigm, even when it costs me, and those I care about.

I am estranged from my stepfather's family, for the most part, and I am estranged from them because I refused to sit around and listen to them make casually racist statements. We were all sitting around the Thanksgiving table (hello, paging Dr. Irony) and my stepfather's brother, who lived next door to my parents, was lamenting that my parents were selling their house. He was worried that 'some mexicans' would move in, and that he'd have to have them as neighbors. Everybody sort of chuckled and knowingly laughed. I asked why somebody's race would matter regarding who moved in next door. He fumbled a bit, as people often do when forced to explain their racism with more than a knowing wink and a laugh, but explained to me that it would drive property values down and the like. I told him he was a racist, and full of it, and I left the table. Later, I blogged about the situation, explaining that I had put up with less overt racism from my family for so long, and that I wasn't going to put up with it any longer. My step-sister-in-law had been reading my blog (though I didn't know that) and was upset that I had included her as a racist. It's interesting how some people don't think anything short of overt racism is racism at all. "Sure, I laugh when people make racist comments, but I don't hate people of color!"

In the end, I didn't change anyone's minds (though I still hold out hope that I made them think twice about at least the most overt kinds of racism), and I managed to piss off my entire step-family (except my stepfather, who has an interesting take on life--though we often disagree, we seek out our commonalities). I don't care so much, really, because if they're not willing to even discuss stuff, I don't have time for them; on the other hand, my mother really suffers the most because she doesn't get to have me around during a lot of family events.

At any rate, I tell this story just to point out that, if you're a white guy out there wondering what you can do, this is the sort of thing I would like to see more of, both in myself and in others.

The Lighter (?) Side of Male Masculinity

From one of my favorite comics, Dinosaur Comics (click to enlarge):

A satire on traditional masculinity?(Uh, yeah, pretty sure about that one.)

A reinforcement of traditional masculinity? (In the same way that "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" reinforces homophobia...?)


Monday, August 06, 2007


Hat tip to Cara at The Curvature for cluing me into another great resource for feminist men: The National Organization for Men Against Sexism (or NOMAS). They have a long history, and, from what I've seen, are on top of not only the complexities of being a man who is pro-feminist, but of the intersectionality issues around gender, race, class and the like. (I'm particularly happy with their nuanced take on custody battles.)

Whenever I run into a group like this, I'm appalled at my own ignorance surrounding the fact that lots of men are, in fact, concerned with gender inequalities, violence by men, and feminism.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Mariners Taking Domestic Violence Seriously -

The Seattle Mariners have set a good example for others (particularly sports franchises) with their handling of pitcher Julio Mateo. Mateo was arrested nearly three months ago for allegedly biting, hitting and strangling his wife.

Mateo was going to be playing for the Mariners this season, though unlikely to be a "major" player. After his arrest the Mariners suspended Mateo for 10 days without pay and then optioned him to their Class AAA minor league franchise. They did not bring Mateo up to the majors again despite a number of times when it would have helped the team.

Now Mateo has been traded the the Phillies.

The Mariners have a "Refuse to Abuse" campaign which they enforced. The Mariners' President stated:

"We believe in second chances. We helped him get one. But for us, it's just an absolute rule. You don't do that."

I'm grateful that the Mariners have been consistent in this matter in support of ending domestic violence. Perhaps someday this will be the norm!


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Some Things Men Can Do

Guest-posting over at Thinking Girl, Kevin shares with us 10 things that men can do to end men's violence against women. There's a fairly interesting discussion going on in the comments at Thinking Girl, thought I'm still at a loss for why people seem to think that the list is supposed to be all-inclusive or definitive. Why is it that whenever somebody makes some suggestions at ways of being, that people so often take the suggestions as if they are supposed to be writ in stone and handed down by god? Sheesh. Kevin (via A Call to Men) made some suggestions--you can criticize them, sure, but I for one would like to thank A Call to Men for at least bringing some potential answers to the table. I hope Kevin doesn't mind us repeating them here:
1. Acknowledge and understand how sexism, male dominance and male privilege lay the foundation for all forms of violence against women.
2. Examine and challenge our individual sexism and the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.
3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to end violence against women.
4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we choose not to speak out against men’s violence, we are supporting it.
5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young men about our responsibility in ending men’s violence against women.
6.”Break out of the man box”- Challenge traditional images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand to end violence against women.
7. Accept and own our responsibility that violence against women will not end until men become part of the solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence against women.
8. Stop supporting the notion that men’s violence against women can end by providing treatment for individual men. Mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc… are only excuses for men’s behavior. Violence against women is rooted in the historic oppression of women and the outgrowth of the socialization of men.
9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and effective ways to develop systems to educate and hold men accountable.
10. Create systems of accountability to women in your community. Violence against women will end only when we take direction from those who understand it most, women.

Do I think that lots of what this list says is more complex than a list might indicate? Sure. Do I disagree with some of it? Yep. But I also think that it's worth noting that there's lots of good in this list, and, while it's a better starting point than ending point, such is the nature of lists like this. Let's see what good we can take away from it, shall we?

I like one general theme that runs through most of the items on this list: Men can and must make changes in order for violence against women by men to be affected in the ways we want. I disagree with some of the commentors that the list is saying that only men can change the situation--of course both men and women can do something to change the level of violence by men against women--but it's often the case that men aren't held accountable for the ways in which they can affect such change, and I think we ought to be. Does that mean that women can't help themselves? Nope. It does mean that men can make a difference, too.